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Medicine Nobel Prize Awarded to Two Cancer Immunologists

03 October 2018

The Nobel Prize in Medicine this year has been jointly awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their significant contribution to cancer research. "The discovery made by the two Medicine Laureates takes advantage of the immune system's ability to attack cancer cells by releasing the brakes on immune cells", the Nobel committee said on Twitter.

James Allison of the USA and Tasuku Honjo of Japan won the Nobel on Monday for identifying two different brakes on the immune system which, when turned off, allow the body´s defence system to attack cancerous cells faster and more effectively. Working in his lab at Kyoto University, Honjo's team figured out how to block PD-1 and unleash T-cells in a different way.

Cancerous tumors are notoriously skilled at dodging our immune systems.

She met Allison a decade ago and learned about his work that led to a drug that saved her life.

"Because of professor Honjo's belief and passion, our research led to the development of the drug", said Iwai.

The Swedish Academy canceled this year's literature prize as a result of the crisis.

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Checkpoint inhibitors now available to patients can be used to treat lung, kidney, bladder, head and neck cancers as well as aggressive skin cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma, reports Denise Grady for The New York Times.

One of Carter's treatments was a drug that blocked the immune-cell "brake" studied by Honjo.

Allison, who is a professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, was studying a protein called CTLA-4 that inhibits a person's immune system by putting the brakes on the actions of T cells.

Prof Allison said it was "a great, emotional privilege to meet cancer patients who've been successfully treated with immune checkpoint blockade".

Capping off the science prizes, the award for chemistry will follow on Wednesday.

He also leads the immunotherapy platform for MD Anderson's Moon Shots Program™, which conducts immune monitoring by analyzing tumor samples before, during and after treatment, aiming to understand why these drugs work for some patients but not for others.

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The Nobel jury said that "for more than 100 years, scientists attempted to engage the immune system in the fight against cancer".

"I would like to keep on doing my that this immune treatment could save more cancer patients", he said.

Their work centers on harnessing the immune system to arrest the development of cancer.

"I don't know if I could have accomplished this work anywhere else than Berkeley", Allison said in the press release. (PD-1 is the protein Honjo discovered in 1992.) In March 2015, Opdivo was approved for lung cancer treatment.

In December, Allison will be honored at the Nobel ceremonies in Stockholm - and he said that he looks forward to seeing fellow honoree Honjo in Stockholm, as well.

Clinical studies document successful fights against melanoma, lymphoma, lung cancer and renal cancer, and further studies indicate therapy combining CTLA-4 and PD-1 treatments could be even more effective for melanoma patients.

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Last year's prize went to three Americans for work in identifying genes and proteins that work in the body's biological clock, which affects functions such as sleep patterns, blood pressure and eating habits.

Medicine Nobel Prize Awarded to Two Cancer Immunologists